Monthly Archives: October 2022

Edward Pugin’s masterpiece

All Saints’ Church, Barton-upon-Irwell, Manchester

Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875) was the eldest son of the better-known Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852), and after his father’s early death at the age of forty-one continued the practice until his own early death at the same age.

Augustus Pugin was inevitably a hard act to follow, and though his son’s designs are less intense Edward was prolific and his work is impressive.  He designed over a hundred churches and a few secular buildings, and at the height of his powers he completed seventeen projects in the years 1865-68.

Nikolaus Pevsner identified E W Pugin’s “masterpiece” as All Saints’ Church, Barton-upon-Irwell (actually in Urmston, west Manchester).  Paid for by the local landowner Sir Humphrey de Trafford, 2nd Bt (1808-1866) and his wife Lady Annette at a cost of £25,000, it was built in 1867-68 alongside the de Trafford family’s mortuary chapel (1863).

Edward Pugin had previously built another church for the de Traffords, St Ann, Chester Road, Stretford (1862-7), and within the same few years designed his Monastery of St Francis, Gorton (1866-72), larger in scale but coarser in detail because it lacked the generous funds provided by the de Traffords. 

The exterior of All Saints’ echoes some of his other churches in the North West and elsewhere, with a nave and apsidal chancel and an elaborate bell-turret in the form of a flèche, set diagonally above the west front.

The interior is richly decorated and narrows towards the sanctuary, emphasising the height of the building.  The nave columns are alternately banded with Runcorn red sandstone and buff Painswick stone, and the roof is made of English oak and Savannah pitch-pine.

To embellish the interior as the de Traffords required – “a grand church…erected to the glory of God” – Edward Pugin brought together craftsmen from his father’s favourite ecclesiastical artists, Hardman & Co of Birmingham, including J Alphege Pippett (1841-1903), whose ‘The Adoration of the Lamb’ on the south side of the chancel depicts the de Traffords accompanied by Edward Pugin in medieval dress holding a plan of the church.

The walls of the sanctuary are of Caen stone and the columns of Painswick stone;  the floor is crimson marble and encaustic tile;  the altar itself is built of Caen stone, finished with Carrara, Siena and Devonshire marble, with flights of angels standing on the alabaster tabernacle, its doors marked by a bejewelled cross. 

The surviving nineteenth-century stained glass, disarranged as a result of Blitz damage, is by Powell & Hardman of Birmingham.  The late-twentieth-century glass in the west rose window is unfortunate.

Sir Humphrey’s son and heir sold most of Trafford Park for £360,000 to Ernest Terah Hooley (1859-1947) who became known as “The Splendid Bankrupt”, but retained the western portion, including Barton, until 1924. 

The canal bisected the parish, and the unpredictable closing of the Barton swing-bridge meant that parishioners were frequently delayed to the extent that it became impossible to fix Mass times precisely.  The population gradually moved away:  by the 1950s Catholic churches were opening on the new housing estates, and All Saints’ remained open only out of deference to an ageing congregation who had worshipped there all their lives.

All Saints’ finally closed as a parish church in 1961, and in September 1962 it was handed over to the Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual, who had provided priests for the parish since 1928.  They renamed it the Church of the City of Mary Immaculate, but it is still commonly known by its original dedication.  The church was listed Grade I on May 9th 1978.

All Saints’ isn’t easy to visit because the site is an operational friary.  It’s open on an occasional basis, and it would be prudent to enquire about arrangements before visiting: Though not as heavily atmospheric as Augustus Pugin’s masterpiece, St Giles’ Roman Catholic Church, Cheadle, Staffordshire, it’s a very beautiful building by a first-rate architect whose career stands in the shadow of his father’s work.

Street transport nostalgia

Stagecoach Supertram no 120 (February 2013)
First South Yorkshire bus no: 37528
First South Yorkshire bus no: 37229

In 2010, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system, Stagecoach Supertram, its light-rail successor, repainted one of their units in a near-approximation of the distinctive Sheffield Corporation azure-blue-and-cream livery.

I sense that the blue isn’t exactly authentic, but it’s a close match and it suits the lines of the 1994 Siemens-Deuwag unit.

The livery on this tram is still a familiar sight on Sheffield’s streets over ten years later, and when the unit, no: 120, was involved in a collision with another, no: 118, in 2015, the undamaged sections of 120 were attached to the undamaged end of 118 which was repainted to match. 

Correspondingly, the two damaged ends were united and sent for repair.

The insistent nostalgia for old liveries extended to Sheffield’s buses when First South Yorkshire commemorated the centenary of bus operation in Sheffield in 2013.  Two double-deckers appeared in approximations of traditional Sheffield liveries.

One of them, no: 37229, looks well in the 1935 azure-blue-and-cream Sheffield livery, re-registered from YN08 LCJ to a more authentic plate 3910 WE belonging to a long-retired double-decker, and the visible fleet-number was truncated to 229.

The other repaint, no: 37528 (YN58 ETX), is less successful, because the contemporary Prussian-blue-and-cream tram livery was adapted for modestly-proportioned 1913 buses and it simply doesn’t fit the bulky lines of a modern double-decker.  The vehicle carries an appropriate fake fleet number 1.

The most endearing aspect of the livery on 37528 is that it carries the name of the long-serving and highly respected general manager of Sheffield Corporation Tramways, Arthur R Fearnley, who is credited with building Sheffield’s public transport system into a source of great pride in the city.  His grandson, Giles Fearnley, was Managing Director of First Bus from 2011 to 2020.

I’m intrigued that modern bus operators are making an effort to perpetuate the liveries of their predecessors.

First South Yorkshire has vehicles running around in the liveries of Rotherham Corporation [First South Yorkshire 37231, YN08LCL. | EYBusman | Flickr] and South Yorkshire Transport [First South Yorkshire 37524, YN58ETR. | EYBusman | Flickr], and Stagecoach has a single-decker in Chesterfield Corporation livery:  [Stagecoach 34720 YN05XNZ at Chesterfield | driffbus | Flickr].  A quick glance at a bus-enthusiast forum suggests this fashion is prevalent across the British Isles.

Nostalgia apart, it’s apparent that modern vehicles actually look better in heritage liveries, not simply because of the choice of colours and typography, but because up to the 1970s it never occurred to anyone to ignore the natural proportions of the bodywork. The garish colours and the swoops and swirls of some modern liveries are what Cecil Beaton, referring to the Duchess of Devonshire’s flower beds, described as a “retina irritant”.

Alstonefield Hall

Alstonefield Hall, Staffordshire: Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust Visit, September 25th 2022

If you drive west into deepest Derbyshire, past Matlock and Brassington, you eventually end up in even deeper Staffordshire, passing from one to the other when you cross the River Dove.

Between the valleys of the Dove and the Manifold lies Alstonefield, an ancient settlement dating back to Saxon times with a Norman church dedicated to St Peter and a cluster of fine houses, mostly dating from the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

It was the birthplace of Charles Cotton (1630-1687), the probable author of The Compleat Gamester (1674) and contributor to Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653 onwards). 

Within sight of the parish church stands Alstonefield Hall, a small but grand residence with a 1587 datestone, though there is evidence within of a structure dating back 150 years earlier.

It’s evident that the Elizabethan building work was intended to front a functional farm complex with a façade that indicated the status of its owner, John Harpur.  Within the projecting entrance porch the visitor enters a spacious chamber with a screen masking a service wing and a staircase leading to the upper floor.

John Harpur was the son of a wealthy judge and, through family connections with the Harpurs of Swarkestone Hall, Derbyshire, he is associated with the Harpur-Crewe family of Calke Abbey.

Alstonefield Hall never developed further grandeur, and over the centuries it declined in status until it was simply a farmhouse, Hall Farm, which the Harpur-Crewes sold in 1951.

The building was partly occupied until the beginning of this century and once abandoned it quickly deteriorated.

Its historic importance had been recognised as far back as 1967, when it was listed Grade II*, and at long last its restoration is about to begin.

The Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, working off-piste in Staffordshire, provided a rare opportunity to see this fascinating building, in a group led by the historian and archaeologist Tom Addyman, who explained the detailed investigations that are piecing together its complex history.

At present it’s a hard-hat area, uneven underfoot, and it’s unlikely to be accessible until years of restoration are accomplished.

However long the work takes, the end result promises to be outstanding.